A formal complaint for deaf ears

by Kris Bledsoe of Grand Island, Yamhill County. Kris is an artist, clinically trained hospital chaplain, small farmer and retired bank executive. Kris has a bachelors in Economics with an emphasis in natural resource management and a masters in Pastoral Care. She was raised on a small cattle ranch in the Willamette Valley.

On Tuesday, February 15th, I attended the House Judiciary Committee's public hearing on proposed bills HB2181, HB2182, and HB 2610. Since I had never attended a state committee public hearing before that day, I wanted to make certain I understood the protocol. I called Representative Jeff's Barker's (Co-Chair of the House Judiciary Committee) office to get the information I needed. The man who answered the phone was most kind and generous with information. He told me they expected a large crowd so that testimonies were likely to be limited to 3 to 5 minutes. He even told me to bring lots of change for the parking meters.

I worked all morning on my testimony to make certain that I hit the high points and kept my testimony short. I even rehearsed it and timed myself so that I would respect the process. I arrived early and signed in and waited my turn. I was naive enough to believe that this hearing was for the public so every effort would be made to "hear" the public.

Co-Chair Wayne Krieger ran the hearing. First he lectured everyone about being polite and also about keeping testimony short so that as many people could speak as possible. This all seemed fair and reasonable. I came early and was high on the list. My testimony would be even shorter than requested. I had done my homework.

Everything that happened at this hearing was gravely disappointing to me. People were not called in order. People who came even after the hearing started were called. It seemed to be a "club" and I was not a member. Those who spoke represented organizations. Those who were in support of the bills were allowed to ramble on and on. Oregon land use law seemed to be on trial. Representative Krieger did not follow the list at all. By the end of the hearing none of the individuals who were opposed to the bills had the opportunity to testify.

I was frustrated and seriously disappointed. When the hearing was closed I went up to Representative Krieger to voice my disappointment. I was angry and my voice was louder than my usual very soft voice but by no means loud. He immediately said, "geesh you people!" I am not certain what group he was lumping me with but I knew this insult was not deserved. He was very disrespectful. I told him that I had been told each speaker would have a limited time so others could speak. He said who ever told me that was wrong. He, himself, had said that at the beginning of the hearing. When I told him that he threatened me by telling me he was going to call the police.

Let's be perfectly clear. No one would ever consider me a threat. I am a 60 year old arthritic small statured woman. He was on the other side on the desk from me. I was at least three feet away from him and he was on the other side of a big piece of furniture. I, of course, stopped talking but was quite bewildered. It is not okay to disagree with a State Representative? After he left the woman who was standing there told me that he had that right if I made him uncomfortable. There is no way I made him physically uncomfortable. He was bullying me. I was the one who felt threatened!

I learned a lot today. I learned that if you are a private citizen you are not really welcome at public hearings. I learned that the hearing are just for folks who all already spend countless hours together to talk about what they think. I learned that if you disagree you can be arrested. I learned that no one was surprised by any of this. I was naive. Now I am not. I will never go to any public hearing at the state again. I wasted my day believing that this truly was an open process.

I don't expect a reply, just wanted you all to know why us "ordinary" citizens don't come to public hearings. Representative Krieger complained, during the hearing, that they hear from the same voices all of the time, I think that is the way it is planned.

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    Ms. Bledsoe, you are a great Oregonian. Mr. Krieger, like most politicians from both parties, is a turd.

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      As are some self-righteous jackasses who fancy themselves as gadfly bloggers when moonlighting from their ostensible day job at Lewis & Clark.

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        Mitch, I know you feel the need to respond whenever the word "turd" is written, but try to stay on topic.

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      Dave, are there actual House rules for how committee meetings are held, or is it custom?

      If there aren't rules, perhaps this would be an occasion to consider them.

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    My two experiences (several years ago and last year) have not been as bad, but were nothing positive.

    A couple of years ago I too was scheduled ahead of time, checked in, etc. Then they decided to cut everyone's time back so I had to edit my testimony down while sitting there. Then they announced that anyone from outside the Willamette Valley would go first, regardless of the schedule. And, as you experienced, a bunch of people with connections got slotted in ahead. Many people that got moved ahead in line testified and drove home three hours while I was still sitting in the chair, over three hours past my scheduled time. Naturally, many of the people who had been schedule in the morning had left long before their name was called.

    But at both experiences, there was clear indifference on the part of several members of the committees, sauntering in late, going in and out, even chomping potato chips on an open mike while someone else was testifying, etc.

    Its a puzzle why some people who hate government so much seem to want the job so much (is it just the money?), but I suppose not surprising that they are scornful of the process of governing when they are in Salem to govern.

    Reminds me of the saying, "Government is incompetent and if you elect me, I'll prove it!"

    Hang in there, Kris.

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      I especially like the "he was intellectually and morally threatened by your rightful challenge." It's more generous to Mr. Kreiger than I'm inclined to be, but in the spirit of reducing acrimony, I'm seconding your statement without snark.

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      Good questions, Kari. Especially #1--why was the R co-chair allowed to run roughshod on this hearing?

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      i think the agreement with Ds & Rs is for co-chairs to alternate days in which they have the gavel. and people may think Hunt is being hyperbolic about the Dems, but it's been my experience at the Leg in the past few sessions that he's be accurate.

      if anyone wants to verify the writer's story about who was allowed to testify, the entire hearing (audio only) can be found at the Leg's website.

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        That bears out observations also. I get really tired of the "a pox on all their houses" refrain. For the most part, Democrats at all levels are more competent and responsible (believe me, I'm not saying they've maintained a very high standard). The Republican's anti-government ideology, as Will said, makes it nearly impossible for them to govern effectively.

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        I can understand why alternating days with the gavel would make sense.

        But if we're not going to make "first come, first served" the rule on witnesses, why not allow the chairs to run it like picking teams on the playground? Take turns...

        "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten"

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    Often experts are invited to give testimony and receive a spot in front of others to give testimony.

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      My question then, Paulie, would be who gets to designate whom as an "expert" and why would the lineup of expert witnesses not be published in advance so that the general public will know how little chance they have of being heard?

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      It seems to me that the very last people to be given time would be the paid experts. Didn't they and their bosses already purchase their private time with many of our Legislators?

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      Expert testimony. Sure. Prioritize that.

      Better still, give everyone a time certain. I'm sure the professionals don't want to sit there and listen to the people ahead of them either.

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    Great suggestions, Kari!

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    Kris, In past years I had experience identical to yours. At one time, Rep. Krieger was my representative so I knew how he behaves. He hates land use planning and has worked hard over the years to dismantle the law.

    Please see my facebook comment about how Senator Dingfelder conducted the plastic bag hearing. She first called on those who drove the farthest, then alternated between those for and those against. It was the best hearing I've even seen conducted in Salem and I watched it from home on my computer. Not everyone conducts themselves as Rep. Krieger does, thank goodness! As a public servant, he is a public disgrace.

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    Don't let bad actors kick you to the curb, Kris. Oregon needs more citizen involvement, not less.

    For what it's worth, I thought Mary Nolan did a great job of getting to the heart of the matter on the attorney's fees issue in HB 2181.

    Oregon law already allows attorney's fees when frivolous lawsuits are brought forward. If HB 2181 passes, ordinary citizens will be on the hook for substantial costs if they have the audacity to face down neighboring Goliaths on land-use issues.

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    Shocking - a hearing on three bills to limit citizen involvement, and citizen involvement is limited at the hearing on them?

    It's a reflection of the values of the bills' sponsors and supporters. While there's limited time and sometimes it's not possible to hear from everyone in a single hearing, the prioritization of professional lobbyists over volunteer citizens is disturbing.

    Thanks for your post, Kris - and finding a way to make your voice heard.

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    I've put up a blog post about my own experience with this oh-so-frustrating hearing, appropriately titled, "Testifying at the Oregon Legislature can be oh-so-frustrating."

    Check it out: http://bit.ly/ggiS3N

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    While I empathize with Kris and those others who have had a bad experience in testifying or attempting to do so,I have to say that my experience over many years at many hearing has been that the Chairs and co-chairs, from both parties, have overwhelmingly tended to be very fair and courteous.

    Hopefully, the behavior of Rep. Krieger and the apparent acquiescence of the other committee members present to it is the exception and not a trend!

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    I am sorry to say here, but what do you people expect? This may seem like a sweeping generalization, however if you dig a little bit you will find the facts for yourself.

    Every elected official that is either state or federal ( and I am sure to a localized area in some cases as well ) say one thing, yet do another. Once we elect them, that is it and they can do as they please. We do not hold our elected officials accountable in this country.

    When I say that, I am discarding the "once in a blue moon, when all the stars align and there can be no cover story on the issue" type of elected official removal that does happen. For every one for those that happen, hundreds more breeze through terms without so much as being looked at twice.

    This has been the trend for a very long time. This is a bit off topic I know, but the point rings true in this case. You know why the representative didn't let the original poster speak at the meeting? It's because he didn't have to, even though the laws/rules state otherwise.

    Question is, what are we going to do about it? Better question to ask, what "can" we do about it? If we chose to not re-elect him, guess what? Odds are another person like him will take his seat and so on and so forth.

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